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Walter Carrington - An interview [DVD]

An interview by Glynn MacDonald.
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Alexander Technique
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This DVD features an interview with Walter Carrington in his study in Lansdowne Road. He relates the story of how he first heard of the Alexander Technique and of his first meeting with F. M. Alexander. He discusses the difficulty of communicating the Technique; how he teaches the concept of inhibition to children, and the difficulty of explaining direction. In the last part of the interview he goes back to the origin of the Technique – breathing. Here he explains why he attaches particular importance to the act of breathing out. This film was made in 2000. Directed by Glynn MacDonald. Produced by Alex van der Velden. Filmed by Oxymoron Films Ltd.


Walter Carrington (1915-2005), trained by F. M. Alexander himself, qualified as a teacher of the Alexander Technique in 1939. Carrington then trained teachers and private pupils for over sixty years. In this interview with Glynn MacDonald, filmed in 2001, he defines the Technique as psychophysical training in self-help.

Alexander had vocal problems that no one could resolve. He came to the conclusion that it must be something he was doing wrong and askedhimself, 'What causes the trouble? What am I doing wrong?' Carrington says that many people fail to ask these obvious questions. We have tolearn to stop whatever we are doing wrong in order to give ourselves a moment to think what we are doing and it put it right. To change a wronghabit in order to put it right is quite a task. (Singers and singing teachers will be well aware of this). Carrington tells us that the magic word is 'No!' which we need to say quickly before we consider what we want to do, and then we can choose what to do or not to do. The ambiguous Alexandrian technical term 'direction' is not defined for us, but instead we are told to look in the books by Alexander for the information.

The interview moves on to physical misuse. Alexander found that the poise and carriage of his head and neck were causing his voice problems;what he required for vocal efficiency was a free larynx. He discovered that he was throwing his head back when reciting, thus tightening his neck. According to Carrington, 'Self embraces everything including mind, body and spirit'. He is describing a concept of wholeness. He goes on to suggest that nature promotes the ways and means of doing – we don't need to make great effort, a wish 'to do' rather than effort is desired and everything else will follow. Carrington grants that it is difficult to communicate Alexander Technique, and advocates a 'hands on'approach for teachers rather than an intellectual approach, the hands reveal the problems of the pupil. He says that it is better for the pupil not to get intellectually involved, but rather to quietly observe and be open to a new experience. Not all Alexander teachers would agree with this and many would refer to the quotation about 'wholeness' above.

This is a beautifully delivered interview by an extremely gracious Glynn MacDonald. She gives Carrington the time to reflect and complete hisanswers. The cameraman seems also to be in the same mood with his lack of intrusion and respect for the interviewee. It is an excellent DVDfrom the point of view of hearing the Technique explained dearly by the great man himself.

The breathing section of the second DVD is a demonstration by Carrington with Glynn MacDonald as his pupil, in which he talks about thehead-neck-back relationship during breathing. Carrington explains simple anatomy, beginning with the head and moving down the skeleton. Heteaches that muscles need to be at their full length for full capacity, that they become shortened with misuse and thus resist stretching to their proper length. Circulation is impaired when the blood vessels are squashed. Balance is critical; our two legs are performing a balancing act. We stiffen up so that we don't fall over, thus we shorten and our natural balance is disturbed. He goes on to say that balance is fundamental to breathing, digestion and so on. In the second part of the DVD Carrington reveals his larynx while performing the whispered 'ah', speech, and singing, with the aid of Garfield Davies and his nasal endoscope.

If I had to choose between buying one or other of the DVDs I would select the first one as an excellent introduction to Alexander Technique. Although I found the second DVD interesting, it is not quite so relevant to singers and singing teachers as the first, unless they particularly wish to see Walter Carrington teaching, are involved in the Alexander Technique, or have never seen the vocal folds in action.

It is unfortunate that there is no note either on the DVDs or the slipcases to alert interested purchasers that the items are DVDs and not CDs. In the opinion of this reviewer, the DVDs are also over-priced.

Copyright © 2006 Singing Magazine ( This edition © Mouritz 2006-2015. All rights reserved.
The first of these two DVD’s gives us interviews with Walter Carrington in his 85th year with Glynn MacDonald.

There is a timeless calm to his modest and measured delivery as he sits comfortably in his study at Lansdowne Road. He starts describing meeting the “dapper” F.M. Alexander at the end of 1935, reflecting on how youthful he seemed though he was in his 60s at the time. He then goes on to touch briefly on a wide variety of aspects of the technique from asking the big question of “what are we trying to teach?” to working with children, via learning how to stop, arriving at the self and the concept of wholeness.

At this point we cut to Glynn asking him about the difficulty of communicating what the Alexander Technique is. Walter’s pause before his considered reply lasts for quite an amazing amount of time – 10 seconds! It is quite an audacious bit of editing (or should I say a bit of “non” editing!).

He is not to be hurried, and surely gives us a perfect example of stopping and saying no. His response when it comes covers another wide area including, touchingly, dealing with old age. Then he comes to the subject of breathing and Glynn makes a point about two meanings of inspiration, medical and creative. Walter responds by saying, “don’t forget the word expiration, which is equally important and significant” and here poignantly and with comic timing continues, “Because we shall all expire one of these days”.

Throughout the interviews the camera stays predominantly on Walter, occasionally panning away from him to travel fondly across an elegant mantelpiece passing old photos and an array of objects on its way to rest on his interviewer. There, while the focus is on Glynn we never lose sight of Walter and by means of a perfectly placed mirror we see his reflection. Sometimes the focus changes from one to the other then returns again to quietly pan back to our main subject and sometimes the camera gently zooms in on his capacious hands as they accompany his words in minute gestures. This is as exciting as the camerawork gets though of course no one would watch this for excitement. The text of this footage could be contained in a slim pamphlet, so we are not watching just to listen to his words, though they contain much wisdom that pays repeated viewing. We are here to breathe in his avuncular presence, his full-expanded person belying his years, the stillness and continuous freedom of his head-neck-back relationship. In short, we are witness to his embodiment of the Alexander technique.

The second DVD; “On breathing and revealing his Larynx” begins with Walter working on Glynn with his hands while explaining practical aspects of postural function in a rich mixture of anatomical and imaginative language. There’s a sense here of him teaching in obviously long and well practiced ways, such as when he talks with a twinkle in his eyes of “the cranial globe resting on the atlas” or “15 degrees of arc between atlas and axis”, brandishing his thumb to represent the dens around which the atlas rotates or describing the body being made up of pipes and tubes carrying fluids around the body. This surely is redolent of what it would have been like when he demonstrated hands-on to rooms full of students at his training course at Lansdowne Road.

After 12 minutes we are again back to talking about the out breath, coming to the whispered “Ah” (he is quite specific about the quality of “Ah” he wants) and Walter describes in the fewest of words the classic essentials of his hands on teaching style. He details his pupil’s progress as he goes along though I found it quite hard to see for myself all he comments on as there is little definition in the dark clothes Glynn is wearing to make out, for instance, the movement of her ribs, her widening back or her lengthening spine.

Then we arrive at the most startling and fascinating part of the DVD’s so far; images of Walter’s larynx during a series of whispered “ah’s”. I first saw this footage in the early nineties during a series of lessons with Glynn and frankly, didn’t really understand what I was looking at. For most people looking at this for the first time I imagine it must be the same. Even though we are given a 2-minute anatomy lesson it is still pretty bewildering stuff. We are shown the route the fibre optic laryngoscope camera takes through a plastic model of the nasal passages followed by a model illustrating the movements of the vocal chords. Then the image in the film is of the anatomical structures we’ve just seen but upside down! Once you’ve worked out what you are looking it is quite extraordinary footage and with digital technology you can rewind and pause to your heart’s content to compare one whispered “ah” with another or study the changes as Walter goes from a whispered to a hummed “ah”. My favourite is him going from an “ng” sound to an “ee”. With a remote in your hand you can make the five minutes of Walter revealing his larynx last hours. And that brings me to a question I’ve been wondering about. At timings of 38:49 and 31:05 respectively (other DVDs have come out recently in the AT world that last only 20 minutes so we are getting quite a good deal here!) couldn’t these two DVD’s have been made onto one? That apart it is wonderful to have this footage of Walter Carrington and our thanks must go to Glynn MacDonald for bringing it to us. For the teacher interested in voice and for every training course this footage of the workings of the larynx is a must.

© Patrick Gundry-White 2006. Reproduced with permission.

This edition © Mouritz 2006-2015. All rights reserved.